The Scarlet Ibis Questions and Answers
by James Hurst

The Scarlet Ibis book cover
Start Your Free Trial

Why is the caul important to Aunt Nicey in The Scarlet Ibis?

Expert Answers info

Jay Gilbert, Ph.D. eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Lecturer

bookB.A. from University of Oxford

bookM.A. from University of Oxford

bookPh.D. from University of Leicester

calendarEducator since 2017

write2,274 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Law and Politics

Aunt Nicey delivers the baby Doodle in this story and is the only person who is not immediately convinced that the sickly child will not live. She argues that, because the baby was born with a caul, he would live for sure, because cauls were made from "Jesus's nightgown"—essentially, a piece of magical matter which would offer the baby protection.

A baby born with a caul is one who exits the mother's body with a piece of its amniotic sac attached to its head, usually like a hood, or across the face like a veil. This happens unusually, and as a result there has been superstition surrounding the caul for many centuries. Some civilizations have believed the caul to be a marker of something sinister, such as that the child will be a witch or has been touched by witchcraft, but more recent Western superstition has held that cauls are an extremely powerful symbol of protection.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

litteacher8 eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write15,967 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

Aunt Nicey believes that the caul will protect the baby and he will live.

When the narrator’s little brother is born, his parents do not name him until he is three months old.  They even build a coffin. 

Everybody thought he was going to die—everybody except Aunt Nicey, who had delivered him. She said he would live because he was born in a caul and cauls were made from Jesus’ nightgown.

They finally name him William Armonstrong, a name that “sounds good only on a tombstone.”  He is a disappointment to everyone, but Aunt Nicey knows that he is special.  The caul makes him special.  It makes him different, and shows that he is under Jesus’s protect.

Sometimes babies are born with a caul, or veil.  In many cultures these are considered good luck.  In this case, Aunt Nicey believed Doodle would live because he was born with the caul.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial